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Cakes and ale

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Klaus blinked. He was dead, he was in hell, and tiny little devils were doing the conga on the inside of his skull in hobnailed boots. This was what he got for being an atheist and sleeping in church. His arms were numb, and a heavy weight pressed down on his chest, and he needed to sneeze, but if he did, his head would explode. Not only was there an afterlife, it was apparently designed by Hieronymus Bosch.

He blinked again, and his eyes began to focus. Rather than flames and pitchforks, he saw a ceiling, in a non-threatening shade of off-white, bathed in painful sunshine. Theological readjustment began to seem less necessary. There was a squiggly crack in the paint over to one corner, and it looked very, very familiar. In fact, it was what he saw every morning on waking up, though from a slightly different angle. This was his bedroom, then, and unless Schloss Eberbach had relocated overnight, probably not hell, and thus, he was probably not dead. He only wished he were.

The dancing devils calmed down a little, but there was still something heavy on his chest. He peered down and saw an unmistakable cloud of blond curls. "No!"

Two seconds later, he was sitting upright on the floor, clutching his head, which the sudden movement had broken into about six million pieces, and staring at Eroica, who lay where Klaus had left him, swearing under his breath. Eroica opened one eye, then the other, looked at Klaus, did a double take, and said, "Oh, God, no!"

Klaus leaned back against the wall, turning his head away from the sunshine pouring in through the window. His arm was still numb. Eroica wasn't exactly a featherweight. "Tell me you didn't put your perverted hands all over me last night."

He wiggled his fingers, and then, as an afterthought, his toes. He could see his fingers move, and it made him faintly seasick, but he couldn't see his toes. He couldn't see his toes because he was wearing shoes. In fact.... He looked at Eroica, who seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion.

"I have no idea what I did last night, but we're both fully dressed." Eroica paused and looked at Klaus. "Well, I am, anyway."

Looking back at his feet, Klaus decided both shoes and socks were in place. Higher up, he saw something that must have been the lower half of his tuxedo and now appeared to be a creasy mess with a number of stains, most of them smelling of beer. Higher up.... "Shit!" His tux jacket was gone, his shirt was gone, and his undershirt appeared to have met with an accident that left most of his chest bare. "Did you do this?"

"I don't know!" Eroica attempted to sit up, winced, and flopped down again. His tuxedo had been white last night, Klaus remembered, but at some point it had had a losing fight with at least one bottle of red wine. "But since I'm not currently hospitalized with a concussion and broken ribs, I would guess not."

Klaus pressed his fingers to his forehead. Part of the earlier conversation came back to baffle him. "What did you mean, 'oh, God, no'? Changed your mind, have you?"

"Oh, no." Eroica smiled. "But when we do something, I'd like to be able to remember it."

"We are not going to do something!" Klaus shouted, and instantly regretted it, as it made the inside of his skull reverberate at a very uncomfortable pitch.

Eroica twitched. "I adore you beyond reason, Klaus, but if you shout like that again, I'm going to kill you." He pushed himself into a sitting position again, more slowly and more successfully. "Is there a bell somewhere one can ring to get your charming butler to bring coffee and aspirin?" Eroica sounded wistful. "Lots and lots of aspirin."

"Water," Klaus said.

"That, too. I feel awful. I can't even properly enjoy ogling your chest." Eroica leaned against the side of the bed and tipped his head back to rest against the mattress. "You know, Klaus, your castle has very hard floors. You should do something about that."

"Idiot! You have to leave. I'm not having my butler come in to find you here in my room."

"You called me Dorian last night."

"I did not!" Klaus blinked. "Did I?"

Eroica laughed, then broke off and pressed his hand to his forehead just as Klaus had done. "I think so. Unless you can think of anyone else who's likely to have lectured me for what seemed like hours on the proper care and feeding of a Leopard tank."

Unable to come up with a good answer, Klaus merely snorted. His tongue was painfully dry. He looked at the door to the bathroom, and at the stretch of floor separating him from it. All he had to do was get up and walk. He had once completed a mission with a broken arm; surely he could walk across his own bedroom floor.

When he shifted, he became aware that he had something in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at it with distaste. "I knew I should be careful with my trousers when you are around. Why did you put flowers in my pocket?"

"I don't think I did." Eroica sounded uncertain. "Didn't G end up with the bride's bouquet? I've no idea why you have it now. Well, parts of it, anyway."

"I will never offer to host another wedding." Klaus tossed the flowers aside. "It seems to be entirely too much trouble."

"Z was pleased, though." Eroica leaned forward, very carefully, and began to unlace his shoes. "And his family. Lovely people. The youngest sister wants to be a thief when she grows up."

"Are you trying to get me to shout at you again?"

"Klaus, she's only eleven. According to Z, last year she wanted to be a politician, and the year before that, an Olympic gymnast." Eroica took his shoes and socks off and sighed with relief. "Is there a bathroom behind that door?" He got to his feet, staggered, steadied himself against the bed, and wandered over without waiting for an answer. "Water," he said dreamily, and closed the bathroom door behind himself.

"Hell." Klaus imagined his tongue as a small, brown, crackling leaf. He desperately wanted water. He also, now that he thought about it, desperately needed to take a leak. At times, the human body seemed extremely badly designed.

He looked around the room, trying to find some trace of his shirt, but he didn't see it anywhere. That meant he'd wandered through his ancestral castle last night wearing a ripped undershirt, accompanied by Eroica, and they'd gone into his bedroom together. Klaus slammed his head back against the wall with some force, but the pain wasn't enough to distract him. His only hope now was that everybody else had been even more intoxicated, and in no state to notice.

No, no shirt, but there were two empty champagne bottles halfway under the bed. No glasses. Klaus had a sudden, vivid memory of tilting his head back, pouring champagne down his throat. He wondered if he could make it a rule that no agents under his command were allowed to get married. Or perhaps just a personal vow never to touch alcohol again would suffice.

Klaus drew his legs up and took off his shoes, too. For some reason, that made his head hurt a little less. He could hear the sound of running water, and it drove him to his feet. Unlike Eroica, he didn't need to steady himself. The wall was just conveniently close, that was all. A muscle in his lower back twinged. The floor really was hard. He walked over to the bathroom door and pounded on it.

After a moment, Eroica opened the door. "What?"

"My turn." Klaus was going to seize Eroica by the front of his shirt and drag him out, but the shirt was gone, and he snatched his hand back before it could make contact with all that bare flesh. "Get out."

"But I want to take a shower."

"You can shower later." Klaus shouldered his way past the other man, heading for the toilet.

"By the way, I used your toothbrush. Hope you don't mind." Eroica closed the door; Klaus glanced back over his shoulder to make sure he was alone.

Once he'd taken care of his most pressing problem, he went to the sink and turned the water on, letting it run cold, and stuck his head under the tap. Icy water on the back of his neck felt rather like getting beaten with an icicle at first, but after a few moments, the shock wore off and was replaced by an almost pleasant numbness. When his hair was soaked through and his scalp felt as tight as a two-sizes-too-small hat, he turned his head and drank for a long time.

Klaus straightened up and thought he heard the water slosh in his stomach. He looked at himself in the mirror: wet, straggling hair, bloodshot eyes, stubble. Torn undershirt. He was a disgrace to his name, he decided, turning away and stripping off his clothes. True Eberbachs did not get blind drunk, sleep on the floor, and allow degenerate perverts to use them as pillows. He rubbed a hand uneasily over his breastbone and stepped into the shower.

Water, soap, and vigorous scrubbing made him feel a bit more awake and alert. Klaus washed the champagne-stickiness out of his hair and reached for a towel, then another towel, then a third one. He shaved by touch in front of the steamed-up mirror, looked at his toothbrush, threw it away, and got a new, safely plastic-wrapped one out of the bathroom cabinet. He scrubbed at his teeth, contemplated shaving his tongue, too, and decided things weren't going to get any better.

Stepping out of the bathroom, the first thing Klaus saw was Eroica, going through the contents of the nightstand drawer. "Stop that!"

Eroica looked up in resignation. "Don't you have anything interesting tucked away anywhere? No pornography under the mattress, no secret stash of sweets or chocolate — it's not natural to be so abstemious. You even have a hard mattress and pillow!"

"Soft mattresses are bad for your back." Klaus walked over and slammed the drawer shut, but Eroica managed to get his fingers out in time. "Now get out of here."

"I want a shower first." Eroica got off the bed and walked towards the bathroom. "You said I could have one. I hope you left a dry towel for me." Once again he vanished into the bathroom and closed the door. Klaus thought about going in there and dragging him out, and tossing him out of the bedroom. Then he realized that Eroica was undoubtedly already taking his clothes off, and if he went in there now—

Klaus cut that train of thought off, toweled most of the water out of his hair, and got dressed in slacks, shirt, and sweater. He put on his favorite pair of well-worn walking boots and decided that if he could have a handful of painkillers and a large plate of fried potatoes, he'd start to feel quite human again.

In a much shorter time than Klaus would have expected, Eroica came back out of the bathroom. He was wearing the one towel Klaus had left untouched, which was rather a small one, wrapped around his hips, and nothing else. Klaus glared, then thought better of it and turned away. "Put some clothes on!"

"I can't wear my things again, they're perfectly disgusting. If you really want me to get dressed," Eroica said, "you'll have to lend me something to wear."

"You would pervert my clothes," Klaus said. "I should just throw you out." He went over to the door. Yes, he should just grab Eroica and toss him outside, but there wasn't anything that could be safely grabbed, except possibly the hair. It was wet, and clung in darkened curls to neck and shoulders. He could see it quite clearly as Eroica came up next to him. Very next to him. Klaus edged a step to the side. "Get out."

"I think not. I think—" Eroica paused and cocked his head to one side. "Do you hear that?" It was a distant wail, as of an air-raid siren, that grew louder and louder, closer and closer. Eroica suddenly looked pale. "Lock the door."


"It's James. Lock the door! Or he'll be in here in a minute screaming at us for having spent the night together, and I don't know about you, but I really can't handle James at full volume right now."

Klaus didn't think he could, either, and he much preferred not to have to deal with James at any volume, at any time. Looking at the door, he saw that the key wasn't in the lock. "You'll have to deal with him on your own," he said, and grasped the door handle, deciding that he could just shove Eroica outside; this would, admittedly, involve touching the man's naked back, but not for very long. When he pushed the handle down, the door didn't move. Klaus tried again. He tugged at the door. Nothing happened. "Damn it!"

"Did we lock the door last night?" Eroica looked bewildered. "I wouldn't have thought either of us was in a state to think about locks and keys."

The key wasn't on the floor by the door, nor on the nightstand. Klaus looked around the room, then, reluctantly, at Eroica. "You're the thief here. Open the door."

"Now?" Eroica made an exasperated gesture, then clutched at the small towel as it began to slip. Outside, James' wails had risen to an alarming pitch. "Are you insane? I wouldn't go out there if you offered me the crown jewels on a silver plate with watercress all around."

"Watercress?" Well, Klaus couldn't really blame him. Even through the sturdy door, James' voice was making his temples pound. "As soon as he's gone, then."

Eroica looked at him sideways, and smiled, a long, slow, ominous smile. "Oh, I don't know about that. I think this could be fun. Here we are, locked into your bedroom, and you won't even let me have any clothes...."

"Shut up!" Klaus thought about breaking down the door, but it was a good, sturdy door, it opened inwards, and James was still out there. In fact, James started hammering on the door with his fists. The sound made them both wince. "Did Z really invite James?"

"Well." Eroica did something with his lower lip that was probably meant to indicate thoughtfulness. "Not as such, no. He just seemed to happen along. He does that rather a lot."

"I could shoot him," Klaus offered. "That would solve the problem, wouldn't it?"

"Don't be absurd." Eroica adjusted the towel around his waist. "It was bad enough that time you beat him up." It was a very small towel. "If he'd sued you, you wouldn't have a pfennig left." Klaus didn't know he even owned any towels that small. "Klaus, did you hear a word I just said?"

Klaus jerked his eyes away. "Who wants to listen to a fucking word you say? Anyway, I have a headache." Admitting to weakness like that felt unnatural, but he did have a headache, and he wanted painkillers, and breakfast, and the presence of James outside the bedroom door was ridiculous and infuriating, and if he'd had his gun... "If he's dead, he can't sue."

"And I'll be sure to come and visit you in prison every Sunday." Eroica tossed his head, a habitual gesture that didn't work nearly so well when his hair was wet and plastered to his skin. He looked around the room. "I can't believe we didn't bring along anything to eat last night. Champagne always makes me hungry."

Turning away from the door and James' intermittent thumps on it, Klaus bent and picked up one of the champagne bottles. When he tried to retrieve the other one, it slipped under his fingers and rolled completely under the bed. He knelt down and reached for it, and put his fingers on something sticky.

"Shit!" Klaus pulled it out. It was a plate with the remains of a large piece of wedding cake. No forks. Wait. One fork, behind the champagne bottle. He stared at it. One fork? "Apparently you did bring something," he grated, getting to his feet and walking over to the bathroom again. His fingers were already starting to stick together with cream and sugar.

"Too bad there isn't any left," Eroica said, leaning with his back against the door to the room and wincing every time James banged on it. Idiot. "It was pretty good."

Klaus went in to wash his hands. When he came out again, Eroica had slipped down and was sitting on the floor, still with his back to the door. The towel was beginning to slip, too. "I don't like sweet things," Klaus said.

"Oh, but you do," Eroica said, a little absently. "You told me that you liked the cake because it tasted like kisses, and I said don't be silly, that's because—" He broke off, and his eyes widened until Klaus could see the entire irises, perfectly round, like blueberries. "Good God. I don't believe it."

"I have never said such a thing," Klaus stated, closing the bathroom door a bit too firmly. He winced. Idiot.

Eroica scrambled to his feet, looking dismayed. "I said it was because I'd been eating cake, so of course they did. Oh, it's not fair! I kissed you last night, and I don't even remember!"

"You didn't — I — we—" Klaus strode over, only stopping when he was toe to toe with Eroica. "You don't remember it because you didn't do it! That did not happen!"

"Oh, but Klaus, I'm afraid it did." Through the door, James shouted muffled threats of tears and financial ruin. "It's really too bad. I'm sure it was fun, but..."

"No!" Klaus grabbed Eroica by the shoulders and shook him, slamming him back against the door. "Nothing like that happened! Nothing!"

"Ow. You're making me drop my towel." Eroica lifted his hands and took hold of Klaus' wrists, but didn't try to break his grip. His hands were warm. "Since neither of us remembers much of anything, let's say last night didn't happen, then." The glint in Eroica's eyes was not nearly as reassuring as the words could have been. "We can simply start over."

"I don't want to start over!" Klaus saw that his own knuckles were turning white.

Eroica turned serious. No teasing glint any more, no amused half-smile. When his lashes dipped in a short blink, there was no flirtation in the movement, and he went on to stare straight into Klaus' eyes. "You want me," he said. "I don't care what you say. I know it. You want me as much as I want you."

Klaus shook his head. He couldn't let go; he felt as though his hands were welded to Eroica's shoulders. He wondered if his fingers would leave marks. "This is wrong," he said. His head was pounding, and so was his heart. "This is not what I want." He looked at Eroica's mouth. Cake. He didn't like sweet things.

"Klaus." Eroica spoke quietly, but his voice wasn't soft at all. "I don't remember what we did last night, but do you?"

Last night. Klaus closed his eyes. He remembered the ceremony, of course, Z and his pretty Hanne both looking almost startled with happiness, and the reception, vast quantities of food and drink and bad jokes and toasts and speeches. Dinner. Dancing. The Chief dancing with G. Z dancing with G. No, that couldn't be right. It had to be an alcohol-induced hallucination. With any luck, everything since then was an alcohol-induced hallucination, including the present moment.

He thought back. Remembered Bonham setting up a high-stake card game in the library, and being dragged away when he wanted to interfere. No doubt half the guests were ruined this morning. A warm, affectionate voice talking to him. Drinking champagne straight from the bottle. Talking back, laughing... laughing? Yes. Heat and strength and laughter and kisses that tasted like marzipan and cream. His own voice saying "Dorian," as though the word had more meaning than was readily apparent.

Again, Klaus shook his head, not opening his eyes. He had been right on first waking: he was in hell. Not the Hieronymus Bosch version, but one designed especially for him, which he thought was taking individual customer service entirely too far. Though for the experience to be complete, Klaus thought, he ought to remember himself dancing with G as well. He still couldn't recall why he'd had a part of the bride's bouquet in his pocket.

All the same, the fact that he had liked the taste of marzipan last night did not necessarily mean anything in the cold light of day; after all, alcohol had apparently made him think that the floor would be a comfortable place to sleep, a clear error in judgment, as his back was now telling him. This morning, his head pounded, James was screaming on the other side of the door, his stomach growled, and he was aware of a world of possible embarrassment awaiting him outside this room. There were no mitigating circumstances.

Klaus took a deep breath and leaned forward, eyes still closed, half expecting to hit his forehead against the door, and caught Dorian's mouth with his own.

This morning, all traces of marzipan had been brushed away by mint and fluoride. And Klaus realized, some hazy time later, that he was half right. He did not particularly care for sweet things. But he liked kisses.

He let go, and stepped back, and opened his eyes. "I remember," he said.

Dorian looked at him. The towel had succumbed to gravity, and Dorian's hair was beginning to dry, lightening into gold. Klaus backed up another step, and Dorian came after him, at ease in his skin and wholly intent on a purpose Klaus could not feel any doubt about. To take yet another step back would be tantamount to running away. Klaus stood his ground.

"I knew it," Dorian said, and kissed him.

The idea that it would be possible to think clearly now, as opposed to last night, did not seem to be entirely correct. Klaus didn't know where to put his hands. They stumbled backwards together, hit the bed, and fell. The mattress springs squeaked quite loudly, and James' expostulations outside rose to a new pitch. "I don't," Klaus said, and then, a little later, "this isn't," and Dorian answered him with kisses and more kisses.

Klaus tangled one of his hands in Dorian's hair, and that was all right, feeling the damp strands wind around his fingers. He lost himself in kissing, and only came back when his other hand slipped and he was confronted with hard evidence of just how naked Dorian was. He froze. Dorian froze, too, drawing in a slightly ragged breath.

"Klaus, you," Dorian bit his lip, "that's, you don't have to, I mean, oh." Klaus shifted his hand, tightened his grip, and Dorian's head fell back and his lashes trembled. "Don't have to do that," he went on stubbornly. "Not now, not so soon..." Klaus moved his hand again, and Dorian made a throaty sound and pressed closer. "Klaus."

This was not so complicated after all. Klaus stroked experimentally, and then more firmly, and Dorian gasped and shuddered against him, so he must be doing it right. One more time, and Dorian convulsed, rolling his head against Klaus' grip in his hair, his whole body trembling with release.

Gentling his touch, Klaus waited. When Dorian opened his eyes again, he looked half blissful, half embarrassed. Klaus kissed him before he could speak, and that worked well, too. He would have thought about his next words, except that he couldn't think and kiss at the same time. "I thought this would be more difficult."

Dorian looked at him for a solemn moment, then smiled. "It's easy," he said.

He propped himself up on one elbow and put his hand to the side of Klaus' face and kissed him in a new way, slower and more deliberate, heavier, somehow. Stronger. If the previous kisses had been champagne, this was a straight shot of vodka, Klaus thought, and then didn't think. He was aware of Dorian's hands moving over him, touching in unexpected places.

After a while, Klaus realized that Dorian was undressing him. All his buttons were undone, but his boots were still on. He should have known — hell, he did know that Dorian could steal the clothes right off his body. He was probably lucky Dorian had never stolen anything more outrageous than his belt when anyone else could see it. And it seemed that what Dorian had truly stolen was his shame, his resistance; Klaus shifted, small, efficient movements, as though his body knew exactly what Dorian's hands wanted, until he was unclothed and lying against Dorian, skin to skin.

That should have been hell, but it wasn't. Not at all. Dorian's hands and Dorian's mouth touched him in ways he had never dreamed, in ways that he had very carefully never imagined at all. His bed was too small; there was not enough room for these overwhelming sensations. He had never before been kissed there, or there, or—

"Stop," he said, and then, when Dorian really did stop, "No, don't." He touched a hand to Dorian's cheek, lacking words, and Dorian kissed his fingertips, and then bent his head again, and Klaus lost himself. Colors swirled behind his closed lids, the red and orange of sunlight and blood, until they were drowned in a wild rush of breakwater white.

One of his arms was numb. A heavy weight rested on his chest, and he needed to sneeze, but if he did, Dorian might move. Klaus stared at the ceiling and followed the crack in the paint from the corner almost all the way to the window. His headache was nearly gone. He was an atheist, anyway. He didn't believe in hell, but the ceiling needed repainting.

Dorian moved after all. Klaus tightened his arms, but then let go, and Dorian propped himself up with his face so close, Klaus almost went cross-eyed trying to look at him. Dorian kissed him again, yet another kind of kiss, a brief, sweet touch. "Klaus, are you.... How do you feel?"

That was an easy question. "Hungry."

Dorian looked startled. Then he smiled like the sun coming up. "I think perhaps I should wash up a little first. Will you let me have some clothes now?"

"Maybe," Klaus said, just to see if he could keep that smile on Dorian's face. They sat up. He put a hand on Dorian's back, just because he could, and stroked down along the spine. "I like you like this."

Dorian's eyes narrowed, though he arched into Klaus' touch. "You're not still drunk," he said, as if testing a theory. "You can't be. Did you fall and hit your head last night?" A speculative look came into his eyes. "Will you let me pick out your clothes for you?"

Klaus snorted. "Absolutely not." He swung his legs over the side of the bed, and an entirely pleasing thought occurred to him. "But I'll pick out some clothes for you."

"No tie," Dorian said, getting up and walking towards the bathroom. "I refuse to wear one of your ties."

Dorian closed the bathroom door, and moments later Klaus heard the sound of running water. He got to his feet and walked across the room to the window. Clearly, he had been wrong about a number of things, including what it would feel like to find out that he had been wrong about those things. It no longer hurt his eyes to look at the sunshine, and he saw that the sky outside was a pure, bright blue. He picked out slacks and a shirt for Dorian with his clean hand, choosing conservative grey and white.

Klaus hadn't thought about the silence until James once again began beating on the outside of the door. He dropped the clothes on the mussed bedspread and went over and hit the door from the inside, just one blow. A squeaky James-sound came from outside. Dorian came out of the bathroom. He was carrying the remains of Klaus' discarded tuxedo and smiling like a lunatic. Klaus tried to glare at him and failed abysmally. "Get dressed."

"I thought you liked me like this," Dorian said, shooting him a provocative look, but Klaus ignored it and went into the bathroom himself for a quick clean-up operation. His hair was almost dry, and he combed the tangles out of it. There was water on the floor and splashed all around the sink. That Dorian was not a neat person didn't feel too surprising.

When Klaus came back into his bedroom, Dorian was dressed in the clothes Klaus had chosen for him, sitting on the edge of the bed and braiding his hair back. Drab colors made his eyes look bluer. He had a pile of clothing next to him, and patted it invitingly with one hand, smiling at Klaus. Klaus found that that particular smile did not inspire him with any higher degree of confidence than it had before the events of last night and this morning. On the other hand, he did not actually own any outrageous or indecent garments, so he ought to be safe.

Small meeping sounds came from outside the door as Klaus got dressed in what turned out to be one of his sturdier flannel shirts and a perfectly ordinary pair of dark trousers. He thought about suggesting that Dorian send James for psychiatric evaluation. When he tried to button the shirt all the way up, Dorian stopped him. Their fingers fought over the buttons for a while, and then Dorian stood up and kissed him, and when he was done, Klaus could barely remember how to glare at all. "You fight dirty," he said.

"Of course I do." Dorian smoothed Klaus' hair away from his face. "Ready?"

Klaus nodded. The movement barely affected what remained of his headache. Clearly, sex was good for something. That might bear further investigation at a later point. For now, he watched as Dorian bent to jigger the lock with what appeared to be a nailfile purloined from his medicine cabinet, and thought fleetingly about James, about his guests, about the butler, and about embarrassment.

He was really very, very hungry.

The door opened.